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Navy shipyard workers avoid furlough, Air Force maintentance workers don’t

When the Department of Defense sent furlough notices to hundreds of thousands of civilian employees beginning last week, thousands of workers were exempt from the mandatory 11 days off the job without pay.

The Defense Department will furlough 680,000 of the 800,000 civilian employees beginning July 8, exempting workers involved in the safety of life and property, such as medics and firefighters, among other categories.

More than 29,000 Navy shipyard workers and nuclear and naval reactors staff will avoid furlough, however, while an estimated 24,000 Air Force Sustainment Center depot maintenance workers will not. That will cause an estimated 25 percent drop in depot productivity, according to the Air Force Materiel Command spokeswoman Sue Murphy.

A Wright-Patterson labor union official has called into question why Navy shipyard workers avoided furloughs while Air Force maintenance depot workers did not.

“As long as the work is there, there’s no reason to furlough these people,” said Thomas Robinson, an American Federation of Government Employees Council 214 executive assistant at Wright-Patterson.

Air Force Materiel Command, headquartered at Wright-Patterson, has oversight of the Air Force Sustainment Center at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. The center oversees thousands of civilian maintenance workers at three primary Air Logistics Centers, including 9,140 workers at Tinker; 7,150 at Hill Air Force Base, Utah; and 7,750 employees at Robins Air Force Base, Ga. None of the civilian maintenance workers at any of the Department of Defense’s aviation depots were exempt, according to Murphy. AFGE, the labor union, has urged civilian employees to contest their furlough.

Robinson added the Air Force had the money to avoid furloughs, but the Department of Defense would not allow any military branch to exempt civilian workers.

Navy Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said in an email the Navy’s nuclear shipyard workers perform maintenance planned years in advance on a small number of ships involved in a high number of deployments.

“If one ship misses or delays its turn in the yard, it can disrupt not only the maintenance of that particular ship but the schedule for the maintenance of the next ship and the ship after that,” she wrote. “When ships go into and come out of maintenance is directly connected to their deployment schedules. No other class or maintenance activity has such far reaching impacts.”

The sequester, she said, was a “department-wide challenge” that led to the decision to furlough civilians in each military branch. “For every dollar we spent to prevent the possibility of furlough is a dollar taken out of another account, impacting readiness and support,” she wrote.

Some Air Force maintenance depot workers won’t have unpaid work days, however. At Tinker, where tankers, bombers and jet engines are repaired, roughly 400 civilian employees who had their homes rendered uninhabitable or destroyed because of recent tornadoes were exempted under the Alternative Safe Haven Authorities law, officials said.

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